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As an EcoCult reader, you might have noticed that most of our modern life has a negative impact on our environment, including the production of our beloved clothes. Starting from the cultivation of raw materials to clothing ending up in the dump, the fashion industry has been dubbed many times as one of the biggest world polluters, and this is especially well-documented when it comes to waste.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a UK based charity accelerating the transition to a circular economy, says “one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second,” and that clothing in the landfill can sit there for 200-plus years.
Organic materials such as cotton, silk, and linen, when they end up in the landfill, don’t break down but do generate methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 to 105 times more powerful than carbon. While some landfills collect methane gas and use it to generate electricity or as fuel for equipment, others let it flow into the atmosphere. Still other landfills, especially in developing countries where much of our clothing waste ends up, are not lined or properly managed, and the clothing can end up in rivers and oceans.
Over the years garment production has increased by 60%, and we have been buying and discarding clothes at an ever-increasing rate, causing an alarming waste problem. This problem is even larger at the pre-consumer stage, as many rolls of fabric and cuttings are left behind at factories.
We need to start reducing, reusing, recycling, and recovering.
New and existing brands are feeling the pressure. They are restructuring their unsustainable practices to address the problem of waste. Many have been challenging themselves to create something new without using any new fabrics, forgoing seasonal collections, and adopting circular practices. In other words, they are creating long-lasting items from what’s already available.
Here are some ways brands are reusing and reimagining waste that would otherwise be destined for the landfill.
Upcycling: Upcycling is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, or unwanted products into something new of better quality and greater value. For example, turning secondhand jeans into new denim skirts. By reusing existing materials, we save energy, water, chemicals, and other resources required to make new virgin materials.
Circular Design: Often described as a closed-loop, this is the practice of designing a fashion supply chain in which every element is continuously used and put back into the system when we are done using it, similar to our earth’s carbon or water cycles. It moves us away from a linear system that is known as take-make-waste. In a circular design model resources are in a constant loop as every element is useful and repurposed at each stage. For example, taking second-hand jeans, breaking them down and turning the cotton into new cotton fabric. Or taking back a brand’s old clothes, repairing them, and reselling them again.
Zero-Waste Pattern Cutting: Zero-waste is a design technique to minimize excess fabric at the design and cutting stages. This means being clever with the use of space while designing a pattern that interlocks like puzzle pieces or creatively using up leftover bits of fabric to make embellishments, accessories, etc.
Recycling: Textile recycling is the method of gathering clothing, fibrous material, and clothing scraps for reuse or material recovery. Manufacturing garments from recycled materials typically requires less energy than producing goods from virgin materials and prevents those fabrics from going to the landfill. Right now it’s estimated that less than 1% of global textile waste is actually recycled.
Deadstock, Overstock, or Surplus Fabrics: These are leftover or flawed fabric rolls at textile mills and garment factories that are then sold at a discounted price. They are textiles that are no longer useful for the company’s designs, fabric that was dyed with the wrong color, or rolls that had slight damages.
Here are several ethical and sustainable brands tackling waste at different price points, styles, and functionality.
All The Wild Roses is Certified B Corp, creating vintage-inspired dresses with a bohemian vibe, and opting to use natural and biodegradable upcycled fabrics, like cotton, silk, and linens. Their design philosophy of upcycling and reusing has expanded into a growing curated vintage collection which includes pieces that have been lovingly restored by hand-dying, mending, reworking embroidery, and recutting vintage finds into new one-of-a-kind designs.
Christy Dawn rescues residual leftover fabrics from other brands to create her vintage-style and timeless designs. Instead of it ending up in a landfill, the brand repurposes these fabrics with a do-no-harm mentality. By reusing materials, Christy Dawn creates responsibly limited-edition collections and avoids introducing thousands of chemicals into the creations. The brand also started cultivating its own cotton in India through regenerative agriculture, a farming practice that focuses on enriching the soil and its ecosystem around it.
Collina Strada’s brightly colored and quirky designs are made from deadstock fabrics. It recycles cotton t-shirts, water bottles, and also prints on deadstock. In addition to its efforts of reducing waste, the brand focuses its attention on incorporating innovative new materials such as fabric made from rose petals.
Ecoalf creates clothing and accessories made from recycled materials. It recovers waste such as plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets, tires, cotton, coffee grounds, and more to produce fabrics and products, but its main focus is using plastic waste gathered from the bottom of the oceans.
Anekdot creates feminine zero-waste lingerie using never-worn production leftovers and vintage trimmings, which are mainly sourced from factories that are closing down, production errors, or miscalculations. In addition to its upcycled delicates, it also offers swimwear, loungewear, and accessories in limited quantities.
Les Fleurs creates dreamy aesthetic pieces from upcycled natural fabrics. Romantic silk, satin, and organza are the brand’s fabrics of choice for its pastel vintage designs.
1/OFF takes designer classics and revives them into genderless contemporary designs. Each creation is one of a kind, connecting the past with the future and the fun with the formal.
Hôtel makes apparel mainly out of old curtains from Paris. The brand also upcycles upholsteries, handmade embroideries, linens, and tablecloths to create its artisanal and timeless pieces. No two items are alike. It embraces the uniqueness and imperfection of each beautiful relic.
Zero Waste Daniel turns scrap materials from factories into genderless clothing and accessories with artistic creations ranging from celebrity portraits to pineapples. The brand reimagines textile by-products and challenges people to rethink waste and reduce their impact.
Rentrayage designs one-of-a-kind playful garments from vintage finds. Many of the brand’s crafty pieces are tailored including darts and seams at the waist to create a feminine shape.
Founded by the daughter of a garment factory owner, Iro Iro gives new life to pre-consumer waste fabric by employing a local family weaving unit outside of Jaipur to weave them into a rich textile. Artisans then utilize this handwoven, upcycled textile to create clothing and accessories through zero-waste cutting techniques.
E.L.V. Denim takes parts of old, discarded, vintage denim and transforms them into fresh modern jeans. It sources them from warehouses around the UK and makes its jeans in East London with the intention to reduce its carbon footprint. Each of the brand’s designs is made from two parts of vintage jeans, which makes every product unique. It uses every part of the jeans, and even makes hair ties out of the bottom of the hems.
Doodlage reinvents rejected industrial fabrics into high street designs. It also shreds its leftover fabric from their production to make lifestyle products or recycle them into paper for their garment tags. Two designs are never the same since — while they can be cut from the same pattern — the raw materials are always different.
Insecta’s 100% vegan, genderless shoes are made from materials such as recycled plastic bottles, recycled cotton, recycled rubber, deadstock fabrics, and upcycled vintage clothing. The brand strives to extend the life of what already exists. All scraps from their production are reused to make the next pairs.